Translated from Gujarati by Dr. Hemang Desai
The entire vas had already been out for drudgery for quite a long time; and now the tender light of the dawn seeped into Khodo’s house. The streams of sunlight, being filtered from the chinks of roof-tiles were drawing patterns on the clay-bedaubed walls of the house. Khodo was sleeping flat on his back on the cot resting his head on a big cone-shaped pillow. He rolled his head from side to side uneasily. Opened his eyes. Noticed the cross wooden beam supporting the roof of the house and kept staring at it without blinking his eyes. To the crossbeam was tied the moliyo. It had been hanging there from the days of his mother’s marriage. It looked exactly like a stark black bow as it had remained tied to the beam for many a year now. At both the ends of the moliyo hung tassels of colorful threads. They too had gone sooty and rotten. Those hanging tassels were the permanent habitat of flies; but as the light permeated, the flies had started buzzing around taking short flights and then landing onto the hanging tassels once again. He got livid at those buzzing flies. Lying in the same position he started thrashing his hands violently about to flush them away. He withdrew his hands helplessly as the flies remained indifferent to his exertion. Once again he riveted his eyes on the cross beam and the roof. He completely failed to make out why he was staring like that. Why would they have hung the moliyo like that? He blinked his eyes and all of a sudden he espied the shape of a woman hanging down from the beam. Her flaccid hands are hanging loosely down. Over her head is the moliyo. He was scared stiff. Squeezed his eyes shut. Everything vanished. He remembered, “Your mother had…hanging herself from the beam…”. He couldn’t dare to recall all of it. He sweated profusely all over his body. Suddenly he opened his eyes. The moliyo was shriveling gradually. It was getting smaller and smaller increasingly. He felt as if he were choking. The noose increasingly tightened its crushing grip over his neck. He sat up in the cot with a start.
“Oh…oh…oh…!” he groaned in virtual pain and started straining with his hands to loosen the grip on his neck. On feeling a slight relief he threw his hands off his neck with a jerk. Clutching the sidepiece of the cot with one hand he cast glances all around. Just then he heard,
“Khodo, the lunatic…Khodo…”
“Not… me…not…me…!” he whimpered and got out of the cot rising to his feet. Stretching his hands out he raved,
“I escaped…I escaped…I am telling you, O Punjo, run away. Bloody tentus, they would not let you go. Bloody whelp of my mother-in-law, trust me…” Then he began to scurry his glance around in the house to ascertain whether there was anyone else in the house or not. A stick placed vertically on its end slanted against the wall near the removable mouth of the clay hearth and a broken wooden stand lay right in front of it. His muttering was still on.
“To tell you the truth, Punjo, it was you who had fastened the door with chain. I know it very well. It was none but you.” His eyes fell on the stick. He got frightened. Began to writhe in pain as if someone flogged him with sticks. He envisaged the face of his father. Bloodied…tossing and twitching in excruciating pain. He also began to toss about like him.
“O dear me…O my father…” he wished to cry out but slumped down in the cot and began to breath hard like bellows. After a while he muttered,
“I escaped, didn’t I?”
His eyes fell on the wall. The moonlike patterns were formed on it, spectacular circles of light…full of light. He was startled.
“Who has thrust these utterly white knives in the wall?”
He threw a glance on the cot. Two or three moons were cast on the quilt. He began to flinch away from those moons. After a while he charily extended his hand towards the moons. The moons slinked onto his hand.
“Damn it, this is nothing but moonlight…” He drew his hand back towards his eyes. The moons slipped away. He was reminded of Punjo as a soon as the moons slipped away.
“Where is Punjo?”
He got up from the cot, opened the door of the house and came out. Finding nobody in the vas he began to cast flitting and confused glances around, towards the village and towards the farm. Quite far away from the entrance of the vas there ran a road to the farm. He saw a baraiyo heading towards the farm and sighted Punjo making for vas down the same road. There was a small metal pot in Punjo’s hand. He broke into running,
“Run away Punjo, I am telling you. That tentu would chop you into pieces. Run…” Bawling wildly, he reached right up to Punjo. Punjo was startled.
“What happened Khodo? Again you’ve started prattling, it seems. Nobody is going to kill me here. Now come, let’s go to the vas.”
“Even I was telling you the same, Punjo!”
Grabbing his hand firmly Khodo began to tow Punjo towards the vas. His eyes were riveted on the baraiyo walking down the road.
“I am coming, don’t you pull me, bloody dastard.”
“That bloody tentun was approaching holding a sword in his hand.”
“I am telling you the truth. Now hurry up, let’s go to the vas.”
He kept on towing Punjo.
Today Narsinh espied Khodo squatting by the hedge of the farm to relieve himself. He blared out furiously as soon as he saw him,
“Bloody…dhe…seducer of your sister, have you taken leave of your senses or what? Why, bloody, are you squatting here to pollute the farm as if it belonged to your father?”
He took a dry clod from the farm and hurled it at Khodo. It fell right onto the metal pot, placed in front of Khodo. The water in the pot spilled out. Khodo shot up in panic. He saw Narsinh flinging abuses. He quickly grabbed the pot with one hand and hitching his pajama with one hand and fastening it clumsily, ran towards the vas. He could hear,
“Bloody seducer of your sister…if I saw you here once more I would hang you up side down from the branch of a mango-tree and would burn fire below…”
As he heard this he increased his running speed and halted only when he reached home. He shut the door fast from inside. Those words rammed nastily onto his mind again and again.
“Seducer of your sister…would burn fire below.”
He forgot even to take water. He began to quack. His eyes reached the crossbeam. The moliyo was hanging. The flies were buzzing. He took up the stick lying in the corner and began to whiz it at the flies as if they were Narsinh. The stick was dashing against the wall and the door. On hearing the banging in the house, Punjo’s wife came out in the courtyard.
“Khodbhai…O Khodbhai…what are you up to. Now slow down…it’s enough. Why, show your bravery outside instead of cracking these walls.”
Khodo stopped. He was out of breath. He threw the stick in a corner and opened the door. Rami, Punjo’s wife, was standing in front of him. He was abashed. He remembered that he had not drunk water after retuning from defecating. He told Rami,
“Bhabhi, a potful of water…”
Rami returned after giving a potful of water to Khodo. A sense of queer restlessness was crushing her. She thought. This Khodbhai is one and the only child of his parents. His poor mother hanged herself to death for the fear of losing her honour and his father was set on fire. And this bhai is intent upon busting walls. It’s all a play of destiny. In reality this village is spineless. The life of vahavayas is all waste. “Now, that lad of the sarpanch made randy advances into Jivi’s house in broad daylight. Punjo couldn’t stomach that, the shoes lying in the verandah, the closed door and all that, so he fastened the chain to the door from outside. After half an hour, the door rapped sharply and the entire vas was filled full with abuses,
“Bloody whelps of my mother-in-law, who fastened the door with chain. Come out and face me. I would set him right. Bloody seducers of your mothers, I am a darbar. I may visit anybody’s house. Who the hell are you to stop me?”
“Nobody from the vas uttered even a word. The next day his father, the sarapanch, came and went away after flinging expletives at the mothers and sisters of the entire vas. Nobody objected. Only Khodo would beat his head against walls restively. Sometimes her husband Punjo would vent his spleen on the subject. But when the entire vas is…”
After the death of Khodo’s parents, Punjo and Rami looked after him. They would be by his side in his good and bad times. While going home Rami threw a glance at Jivi’s house. In the verandah somebody’s shoes were lying and the door was shut fast. Rami beat her palm against her forehead in despair. Casting a spiteful glance at the house, she spat out in disgust and then went inside her house.
Khodo who never in his lifetime had gone out in the afternoon, was coming, running all the way from the road to the farm. Halting for a moment or so at the frilled entrance of the vas he ran towards a collapsed house in the vas. And began to shriek loudly,
“Punjo, I am telling you. You dastard, run away. Run away to the city…that dharado would reach here in no time, resting his scythe on his shoulder…would cut you into pieces in no time…in couple of whizzing swipes…”
“That bloody tentu, the whelp of my mother-in-law…O dear me…with big, wide eyes, scythe on shoulder and a sword in hand!”
All of a sudden he stilled. As if a sword had slipped into his hand from somewhere, he began to play the game of swipes and slashes, clenching the fist of one hand and fixing the other across his back. He began to jump in the collapsed house as if he had been hurling deadly swipes lunging down from air. Just then a cat jumped down from the tiled roof of the neighbour’s house. A tile rattled. Startled, he froze. He saw the cat passing by. Grimaced at the cat. Then began to rave,
“There he came…I am telling you Punjo…run away.” Then he began to weep loudly for him.
“First of all my father…then mother. I was watching everything with wide-open eyes. What shall I do…run away Punjo, now it’s your go…I am telling you the truth…believe me.”
-And as if sticks hailed down on him, he began to parry blows by flinging his hands and legs up in air. If at one moment he doubled himself up, the very next moment he straightened up. While tossing thus he missed a step and toppled down on the ground. No sooner did he fall on the ground than he started crying in panic,
“Run to his help…save him…there he slaughtered him.”
On hearing the cries of Khodo, the children of the vas along with Rami and other two or three ladies rallied to the place. Khodo kept gawping at Rami with wide-open eyes. Just as the string of a bow straightens after being pulled, his body straightened. His breaths began to come in short, rapid gasps. The very next moment he went unconscious. On seeing the pathetic condition of Khodo, Rami began to vilify the past seven generations of Jivi’s lineage. He squatted by Khodo’s side while her tongue went on railing.
“Bloody slatternly slut. May she be ruined. If her posterior burns with blazing lust, quench it by thrusting burning logs into it. Why does she create troubles for this poor boy?”
“Hey, lower your voice, my dear, if somebody hears he would clype to her husband. Then it would invite a new trouble.”
The other woman began to reason with Rami. Just then,
“Who is that slut, claiming to be Mother Sita?” Jivi appeared storming. Without paying attention to her, everybody purposely busied themselves in the fuss of making Khodo sit up right. Khodo’s body had become unbendingly stiff. He gradually sat up on his own once it slightly bent from the waist.
“In whose courtyard are the shoes not taken off? Show me a single place…if you claim to be brave, tell your husbands to turn them out of the vas. Then indeed I would hold you in awe and respect. Why, do you have the guts to rebuke the visitors?”
Sitting down, Jivi began to weep mournfully drawing one end of her sari over her face.
“This village is shorn of mettle, O dear me…which vengeful enemy of mine did fling me into this village…threw me into this deep well?”
Then she hurriedly got up hitching down the end of her sari from her face.
“This bloody sissy implores Punjo to run away. Why, slaughter some baraiyo instead! Whom does he have to worry about after his death?If you do something like that you would be honoured as the true son of your father, otherwise keep lying thrusting your face into your posterior without kicking much uproar. Slay somebody. What can one expect from him now when he didn’t budge a little even when his parents were killed?” Jivi retorted and turned as speedily towards her house as she had stormed in.
Khodo understood just that. “If you slew a baraiyo, you would be the real son of your father…” and he shot up in a jiffy. His eyes began to roll about restlessly in all directions. Without uttering a word he ran towards his house. Went straight into the house and closed the door. Today he didn’t quake even a little at the sight of the stick lying in the house. Every now and then he began to cast thoughtful glances at the stick, moliyo and the door etc. His body flushed with sweat. Everything began to whirl round and round. Holding his head in his hands, he slumped down.
The door of the house didn’t open until eventide. Rami came carrying his dinner in to a tasnun. She rapped at the door of Khodo’s house twice or thrice but could get no response.
“Khodbhai! I have placed rotlas and kadhi here. Here in the niche. Do eat them. Otherwise you would go directly to…” After having this much of dig, she stopped but internally she did complete her half-spoken sentence. “Bloody for how long should I watch over this mess of others’ making? And such a man doesn’t die that easily, oh no.”
Rami kept standing for a while. Inside the house the cot creaked slightly. But nobody got off it and came out. “Bloody brother-in-law of the village, he would eat if he wished…” Rami grumbled and flounced towards her house.
Hardly had it been daylight when a hue and cry rose in the village. Somebody had broken Harisinh’s leg while he was asleep under the small shed of the vacated house in the farm of the sarapanch. He was fortunate in that the first blow was heaved onto his leg. So Harisinh woke up otherwise the hundred years of his life would have been expended in a jiffy. Harisinh had identified the attacker even in the dark. “That Khodo, the lunatic.”
“Bloody dhe… has gone astray. Really he is such headstrong fellow to have fought with Harisinh all alone. Hats off to his mettle.”
“He was bound to become spunky man someday or the other, wasn’t he? What a mean sort of cruelty the sarapanch has inflicted on his household! Do you know that?”
“He is a sarapanch. He is licensed to ruin anything, standing crop or lives. But this boor is a vahavayo. Even then he dared to cross…”
And then the entire community of baraiyas rushed fiercely towards the vas. Everybody grabbed whatever he could lay his hand on. Stick, scythe, clubs, tins of kerosene. The sarapanch heaved a bellowing roar as soon as he reached the center of the vas.
“Where has that whelp of my mother-in-law gone, bloody Khodo…fuck of his mother…tell him to come out, otherwise I would set the entire vas on fire. Hey, you bloody dhe…bloody you broke my son’s leg. Has your head turned like that of an intoxicated elephant? Come out, you. Where are you Parbat, bring me the tin of kerosene.”
Just as all the birds hide into their nests when the hawk swoops down, an all-pervading silence fell in the vas within a fraction of a moment. Whoever was engaged in work outside his house scuttled inside leaving everything to its own devices and closed the doors. Even Punjo and Rami ran, shut themselves inside the house and kept peering from the crevice in the door to see what was happening. One fellow headed towards the house of Punjo and heaved a swipe of scythe onto the standing cot. The voice of the sarapanch reached his ears,
“Bloody Punjo, tell me where has that Khodo hidden himself, otherwise I would put your house on fire.”
The sarapanch made to the courtyard of Punjo’s house. A dog barked in the vas. Somebody hit it with a stick. The dog ran away yelping kun…kun. A heavy silence engulfed the vas.
“Why, you brave men, why don’t you listen? Sucks to your mothers. Today I will settle your bloody hash. One man comes and fastens the chain to the door, the other comes and breaks the leg. We have let you go scot-free once…”
Just then sticks and scythes began to be rained down onto the movati, cots and roof-tiles of the houses in the vas. Some sticks rained onto the doors of some houses. Nobody uttered even a word. Punjo felt he should go out. But he had been a witness to the miserable condition Khodo’s father was reduced to. He too was a man of mettle. How many blows of stick he had endured! He threw a horrified glance at the bathing place from the chink of the door. He could visualize Khodo’s father tossing about in acute pain. He was overcome with a deep sense of disgust for himself. His heart surged with a genuine admiration for however little daring Khodo had exhibited. Every single hair on his body bristled with anger. He began to look around for the scythe in order to go out well armed. No sooner could he lay his hand on the scythe than he turned towards the door. Somebody was heaving swipes of scythe onto the door. Rami began to pull Punjo back out of fear. Just then he heard,
“Hey, Khodo stays in that house.”
The entire gang wheeled round and made for Khodo’s house. Punjo kept peering through the chink in the door instead of opening it. His grip on the scythe was becoming increasingly firm and strong.
“Hey don’t set the house on fire. Pull Khodo out of the house and put him on fire.”
Sticks and scythes rained heavily down onto the door of Khodo’s house. The door was smashed.
“Hey, wait a minute. Disrobe him and bring him stark naked over here. Put him on fire right in the center of the vas.”
Storming thus, the sarapanch ran towards the house and removing his shoes into the verandah out of sheer habit and jumping over the broken door, lunged threateningly towards the cot standing in the house. The very next moment he gave out a bellowing shrill roar.
“Bloody Khodio betrayed us…” Something greatly stiff rammed into the sarapanch’s forehead. The forehead burnt with smarting pain. The headgear slipped off his head. Before he could caress his forehead with his hand, something struck him once again. He quickly grabbed the thing striking at him thus. And he began to gauge it restively with his hand.
“This is nothing but the foot…”
On hearing the roar of the sarapanch, many a more man rushed inside. Within that while the sarpanch had regained his composure and was gaping stoically at the crossbeam. Somebody had hanged himself from the beam right beside the moliyo. His legs were held by the sarapanch. Flies were buzzing around the tassels of the moliyo. If at one moment the flies landed onto the tassels, the very next moment they would settle down onto the eyeballs that had popped out of the hollow sockets of Khodo’s eyes. The filtered light was flowing in the house. And a small image of moon fell onto the palm of Khodo’s hand hanging loosely down.
Translated from Gujarati by Hemang A. Desai
baraiyo: a person of Baraiya community akin to Thakardas.
darbar: a baraiyo.
dharado: a member of a community akin to Kolis, Thakardas etc.
dhe…; a pejorative for a person belonging to dhed that is the name of so-called untouchable cast.
moliyo: embroidered strip of cloth sewn to sleeve of bodice.
movati: the crisscross of bamboo poles for fixing roof tiles.
sarapanch: president of village panchayat.
tasnun: large flat dish.
tentu: contemptuous address for a Rajput.
vahavayo: member of artisan class given some fixed share in the produce of land and made to live in the village; one who stays in vas (barbers, washer men, sweeper etc.)
vas: locality of untouchables; people living in it.